To the U.S. reporter, Christine Sinclair’s three goals (against the United States) in a spellbinding Olympic semi-final (against the United States) at Old Trafford (against the United States) meant she was now a household name. How, the captain of Canada’s women’s soccer team was asked, did she view it?
“I think it’s kind of funny …,” Sinclair responded, looking away and taking a deep breath before starting up again, “I think it’s kind of funny that with the career I’ve had, people wouldn’t know about me. In semi-final games and finals, big players are expected to step up. And I tried to step up.”
When the powers that be decide who gets to carry Canada’s flag for the closing ceremony, they could do worse than Captain Canada. She has defined Canada’s London Games, just as she has defined a sport played by more kids in this country than any other.
Because we are Canadian, we tend to reach for hockey analogies to describe otherworldly performances by our athletes. Thursday, when Canada attempts to shake off the shock of a 4-3 semi-final loss to the United States and plays for the bronze medal against France, Sinclair’s teammates will need her once again to be a combination Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux – pretty much what she was against the Americans. But then, what else is new?
Sinclair’s 143 international goals leave her tied with U.S. nemesis Abby Wambach for the lead among active players – 15 back of historic leader Mia Hamm – and scoring goals is all she’s done since she joined the national team as a 17-year-old, including three in her first competition.
Sinclair wears No. 12 because she played second base as a child and Roberto Alomar of the Toronto Blue Jays was her favourite player. A native of Burnaby, B.C., who played U.S. college soccer with the University of Portland, she was an ESPN academic all-American and a two-time winner of the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy, soccer’s equivalent of football’s Heisman Trophy. She has been named Canada’s soccer player of the year in each of the past seven years and has been a nominee five times for the International Association Football Federation (FIFA) player of the year.
There are few athletes in Canada who do game-face the way Sinclair does game-face. But there has been evidence in this tournament of a lighter side that was heretofore revealed only to her teammates. Sinclair has always been a gracious interview, headphones draped around neck, kitbag in hand, sometimes shrugging and pawing at the ground as she answers questions.
An English Premier League fan, she was invigorated both by a switch to an attacking midfielder’s role and by matches at St. James’ Park and Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. The words “outrageous” and “cool” are now staples for a person who probably doesn’t realize how happy she makes other people when they see she’s happy.
She comes by her soccer talent honestly: Cousins Bruce and Brian Gant played professionally in the Northern American Soccer League and Major League Soccer. Sinclair is expected to play professionally in Germany this year with Frankfurt, after tiring of the unknown commodity of women’s professional soccer in North America.
“Any time Christine gets on the ball, it brings such a confidence to our team,” said Desiree Scott, a young player who has blossomed during the tournament as a defensive midfielder. “She’s such a strong player and someone that can calm us down when we need to get some calm into our game.”
The superlatives and tears flowed for Sinclair in the mixed zone after Canada’s loss Monday. As for the captain? It was shocking to hear her suggest that referee Christiana Pedersen had determined the outcome before the match. But the bitterness was one of the reasons why she shrugged a Sinclair shrug and just kind of looked around when she was asked if the the full magnificence of the night had registered.
“Maybe something in a few months I’ll think about it,” she said. “But right now, it just feels a loss.”